The Prose Comic Book

There’s a fun little poser I’ve been thinking about lately, and sometimes I like to think out loud.  Indulge me, will you?

For a hungry young writer, there can be some tough decisions to make.  Say you’ve got a story idea.  Better yet, say you’ve got a slew of the bastards, a series of interconnected thoughts and ideas involving the same characters.  You’re talking about something ongoing, something that can wrap you up like a television show.  Now, how do you write that?

Okay, I know how you write it, but what medium do you go for.  Novels are great.  You have a greater sense of control when it comes to manipulating the reader.  With comics, you’re talking about giving half of the creative process over to an artist (if you’re like me and lack any artistic talent).

But comic books are built to be serialized.  It’s a part of their nature, and it’s something they do very well.  You get 22 pages of story every four weeks (unless that artist screws it up, far too common these days), and maybe every six months you get a trade paperback collecting the previous half-year’s stories.  Not a bad shake, really.  You get a sturdy volume for your bookshelf, but you can also feed that monthly jones.

But, yeah, there’s more than one problem there.  The first is that artist thing.  I think I could kill a tiger with my bare hands before convincing an artist to sign on for a monthly series without having a deal for the book in place.  Catch 22, you can’t sell a comic these days without an artist attached.  Add in the factors that the only publishers who will touch a non-superhero serial (save Vertigo and Dark Horse, who ain’t gonna touch me without some kick ass prior credits) pay back end deals only and the horrifically tiny readership for non superhero comics, and you’ve got one daunting problem on your hands.

So then there’s manga, those wonderful japanese comics that come in thick, yet pocket-sized digests and have their own section in bookstores across the country.  There’s real potential there, but it’s a tight market, and I’m not sure it’s the way I want to go.  Plus, the only publisher who will touch OEL (Original English Language) Manga demands 60% ownership and claims horror doesn’t sell.  Scratch that off the list.

So what’s a guy to do?

Well, I’ve got an idea.  Even better, I think it might be a good idea.  Novels used to be serialized all the time.  The books were (largely) shorter back then, but that’s beside the point.  King proved with The Green Mile that it can still be done.  “But you’re no Stephen King,” you say.  “Duh!” I reply.  This would have to be done cheaper, with a smaller base.  Why?  Because we’re not serializing a single novel.  We’re making comics in prose form.

I see it this way: a 14k word (roughly 70 page), saddle stiched chapbook every month.  It could even be on a six week schedule.  At 1500 words a day, it’ll take about ten days to write, then another week for a second pass.  Editor gets a week, then we go to press.  We’re printing the chaps on the cheap, so they take a week or two max.  So, yeah.  Six weeks is more than possible, four is a tighter fit, but why not?  That’s what lead time is for.  Have six months to a year’s worth of story ready to go before the first goes to press.  No sweat.

Plus, after six months, you’ve got an 84k word novel ready to go–perfect Mass Market length.  And sure, you want the novel to be of better quality than the chaps, but you don’t need to go crazy with it.  We’re talking pulp fiction, here.  Maybe a $14 trade, but the pulpy mass market is the way to go.  Of course, selling to the mass market takes a lot of time, so maybe sticking with the indies is the better way to go (that trade thing again).  An indie could even rattle off a 100 copy limited hardcover, add to their profit.

So here’s what we want to happen…

Six months of chapbooks.  At the end of that six months, the collected novel goes on pre-order.  You can even advertise where to order the book from in the back of the chap.  The chaps keep coming, and in another six months the first collection comes out, just as the second collection goes up for pre-order.

Boom.  You have a prose comic book.